Liberation Upon the Last Thought before Death
---What All of Us Can Master
Vajra-guru ChihMin & Vajra-guru HueiHwa
What is the truth of life? Life is simply the process of consecutive births and deaths of a spirit or consciousness according to its karma. To improve our lives we need to start working on our every thought from now on. For our next lives, the most critical point is to control our last thought before death so as to be reborn in a better place or get liberated –– This is the spirit of "Liberation Upon One Thought". It sounds simple; but in practice it could be extremely difficult. There are three critical points to notice to help a dying to find liberation upon the last though: (a) Preventing Obstacles (b) Skillful Guidance (c) Chanting Assistance.
Even if a person is announced dead by a doctor, it is improper to move the body immediately or perform all kinds of treatments on the body. If someone gets serious sicknesses, or is not cured after a tremendous amount of medication, or is declared cureless by doctors, we should also guide him to chant Buddha’s name.
The problem of life-and-death is the single most important thing in one's lifetime. It is also a problem that everyone has to face. It can happen anytime and anywhere. So, why don't we get well prepared while we are still conscious? Also, we can start by participating in and propagating the activity of the chanting assistance of “Liberation Upon One Thought” to benefit others tremendously.
1. The Truth of Life
What is the truth of life? Life is simply the process of consecutive births and deaths of a spirit or consciousness according to its karma.
Then what is karma? Karma is whatever we do, whatever we speak, and whatever we think about. Each action, word, or thought carries some corresponding energy. No matter what we do, the corresponding energy will be released, which will affect others and bind ourselves. This functionality of actions is called force of karma.
When a spirit, due to the force of karma, enters a womb, a life begins. When the embryo grows up to a body, it will leave the mother body, which is called birth. When the karmic conditions for the existence of the body ends, the consciousness will leave the body, which is called death. After the consciousness leaves the body, according to its karma it will find another womb, where another birth and death begin. The processes of births and deaths never end, which is the truth of life.
Since karma is the result of our own actions, it can also be determined and changed by ourselves. On the other hand, life and death follow the force of karma, therefore life and death can also be determined and changed by ourselves. Similarly, whatever we encounter, whatever happens to us, and whatever we lose, etc. in our lives, can all be determined and changed by ourselves.
To change our karma, our ways of living and dying, and our lives, we must start from our daily life actions, speeches, and thoughts. With one more beneficial action, speech, or thought in our lives, we create a bit more good karma, and consequently our lives become a bit better. With one more harmful action, speech, or thought in our lives, we create a bit bad karma, and consequently our lives become a bit worse. If each word we speak, each action we do, or even each thought we have, never harms but always benefits the others, then our lives will be full of pure virtuous karma. Thus it is impossible for our lives not to become better.
2. What Is "Liberation Upon One Thought"?
To improve our lives we need to start working on our every thought from now on. To be reborn in a better place, we must control our last thought before death.
Buddha Shakyamuni taught us: "In the boundless universe, there are countless worlds and countless Buddhas who are teaching sentient beings. To the west of our world, there is a world called “Utmost Bliss (Sukhavati)”, where Buddha Amitabha is saving sentient beings in numerous worlds along the ten directions. For each sentient being who has heard his name, truly believes in Him, has made sincere wishes to be reborn in the World of Utmost Bliss, chants His name mindfully, performs all kinds of virtuous deeds, and never commits bad actions, Buddha Amitabha will come to welcome and lead his consciousness to the Pureland of Utmost Bliss at the time of death. In the Pureland, there are no afflicted emotions, no pain, no old age or death, no poverty or sickness, and nothing but pure, ever lasting and constant happiness. If one has never practiced in one's lifetime, but hears the name of Buddha Amitabha at the time of death and sincerely chants it, the person will also be reborn in the Pureland."
How can one be reborn in the Pureland simply by chanting the name of Buddha Amitabha before death even if one has not practiced daily? That is because the last thought before death is the thought at the crucial moment of life-and-death, and is the thought at the turn of life and death. Consequently this thought is extremely powerful. This thought may determine whether one is to be reborn in the Pureland or to reenter the samsara, whether one is to be reborn in the heaven, or degenerates to an animal, hungry ghost, or a hell being in the next lifetime. If this thought is characterized by hatred, then dragged by the force of hatred, one will fall into hell, or become a poisonous insect/animal. If this thought is characterized by desire, then dragged by the force of desire, one will be reborn in the realm of hungry ghost or animal. If this thought is peaceful and calm, then one will be reborn as a human being. If one believes in God and the last thought is praying to God, one will be able to communicate with God and be reborn in the heaven as retinue of God.
Therefore if one can direct the last thought before death toward Buddha, one would be responded by Buddha and be reborn in a Buddha Field after death. Then immediately after one’s last thought of this lifetime, his/her next life, which transcends the cycle of life-and-death, appears in a lotus in the Utmost Bliss Pureland. This is what is meant by “Liberation Upon One Thought”.
3. Why Should We Propagate Chanting Assistance For "Liberation Upon One Thought"?
"Liberation Upon One Thought" sounds simple. But in practice it could become extremely difficult. The reason is that at the time of death, both one's body and mind suffer a great deal. It would already be very difficult for one to remain calm, not to mention for one to control the last thought and direct it toward Buddha. Unless one is a very experienced practitioner, it would not be easy to rely solely upon one's own power to be reborn in the Pureland through the last thought. Nevertheless, it is a Buddhist practitioner's duty to “wish every sentient being to relieve all sufferings while never strives for one's own happiness.” Therefore in Buddhism there is a practice of “chanting assistance”, i.e. helping others to chant the name of Buddha.
Chanting assistance is a traditional Buddhist way of near death care. There are many ways of chanting assistance, such as chanting assistance before death, chanting assistance within eight hours of death, and chanting assistance during the bardo period within three days of death. Even though all these ways of chanting assistance carry the blessing of Buddhas and there are always auspicious signs after the chanting assistance, the effectiveness of different ways of chanting assistance are different. For the dying person it requires much less effort and is much more effective to have chanting assistance before death than to have chanting assistance after death. But for those providing the chanting assistance, there are all kinds of problems to perform chanting assistance before death, such as insufficient men power and the indefiniteness of time of death.
We, ChihMin and HueiHwa, always cherish the compassion of our lineage gurus that is no different from that of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and their great kindness and expectations toward us offsprings. So we strive to work day and night, without a day of laxness, on helping and saving sentient beings. Observing the development of our Chanting Assistance Group, we have found that it is more or less limited to chanting assistance after death and it is very rarely able to do chanting assistance before death. Nevertheless, to save and help a dying person more practically and effectively, it is the best to have chanting assistance before death. Especially for most patients near death, their minds are tired and extremely discursive. Since they may have never practiced chanting the name of Buddha before, in addition that they are inflicted with all kinds of sicknesses and attracted to all kinds of worldly concerns, it is impossible for them to chant the name of Buddha wholeheartedly before death all by themselves. At this critical moment of living-or-dying and rising-or-degenerating, if we can help them to see, hear, or think about Buddha, so that the impression of Buddha is directly related to the mental organ, then they will surely be reborn in the Pureland.
During recent years, the quiet and peaceful medical care has been greatly developed all over the country, and the concept of near death care has also become more widely spreaded. We would like to take this opportunity, disregard of our ignorance, to advocate and spread the chanting assistance for liberation upon the last thought before death. We would like to work with all Buddhism chanting assistance groups, medical professionals and all people in the society to carry out this extremely meaningful project that can benefit sentient beings selflessly. We wish that everyone can control the last thought before death, chant the name of Buddha, think about Buddha, see the images of Buddha, hear the name of Buddha, return to the lotus Pureland all together, and attain perfect enlightenment.
4. How to Perform Chanting Assistance to Liberate The Dying Upon the Last Thought?
To perform chanting assistance that helps a dying to find liberation upon the last thought, there are three critical points to notice:
1. Do not perform emergency treatments, move the body, change the clothes, wash the body, cry, or make any kind of noises;
2. Guide the patient skillfully to engender confidence in the patient's mind;
3. Make sure that he sees nothing but the Buddha, hears nothing but the name of Buddha, thinks nothing but the Buddha, and continuously concentrate on remembering Buddha until the consciousness leaves the body, without a single moment's interruption.
(1) Preventing Obstacles
For a patient who is definitely approaching death, it is of most importance not to perform any emergency treatments to save the patient's life. Instead send the patient to his home immediately and let the patient's family make decisions on what to do and make all the arrangements. The other way is to send the patient to the Liberation Room (i.e. Chanting Assistance Room) in the hospital, and arrange with the hospital so they do not perform emergency treatments and allow us time to perform chanting assistance.
Why should we not perform emergency treatments? The modern medical science pays attention only to the condition of the body and uses instruments to judge whether the body is alive, while ignoring the patient's spiritual aspects altogether. It is said that when one dies, the consciousness needs to leave the body. During this process, it is extremely painful and is described as to have a turtle taken off its shell alive. Since the patients are almost exhausted and extremely sensitive, even a slight touch would make them feel as been cut by a knife. But the patient already has no control of the body. Neither can they tolerate such misery beyond description, nor can they speak out. Therefore at this very moment, it is very important not to move the body, not to rush to change clothes for the patient or clean the body. If one tries to perform emergency operations to save the life of a body that is approaching death according to instruments, it is no different from putting the patient in hell. Torturing the patient like this would easily make the patient angry and consequently fall into lower realms.
On the other hand, crying and making noises can disturb the patient's mind, which is also a great suffering for the patient; in addition it would likely generate attachment in the patient's mind and bring him/her back to the samsara.
(2) Skillful Guidance
Besides preventing all kinds of obstacles that can make the patient's body and mind suffer, we need to guide him/her to let go of all his/her attachments to this life. We can also briefly remind him about Buddha Amitabha and all those excellent virtues of the Utmost
Bliss Pureland, so he/she can generate faith in them and make aspirations to be reborn in the Pureland.
To guide the patient at this moment, it is important to use concise words and sentences and be to the point, since the patient would not have enough energy to do complicated thinking. For those who are almost or already in a half coma, the guidance should be spoken very close to the patient’s ear, so it can be heard easily.
The work of guidance is best done by the patient’s relatives, since the voice of a relative can be listened most easily. In case no relative is capable of the job, professionals of the chanting assistance group should be asked to conduct the guidance.
(3) Chanting Assistance
After a brief instruction that generates confidence in the patient's mind, it is time to start the chanting assistance to have the patient remain mindful in the Buddha.
The key point for chanting assistance is to make sure that what the patient sees, hears, and thinks is nothing but the Buddha. Therefore if the dying is still conscious and is able to see, a picture of the Buddha Amitabha standing with the gesture of welcoming people to the Pureland should be placed at where he can see easily by simply opening his eyes. The size of the picture should be large enough so that the dying could easily see it clearly.
Second, we should chant the Buddha’s name near the dying and let him/her hear it. If the dying can speak, he/she should follow the chanting, either loudly or silently. If the dying cannot speak, let him/her listen to the chanting of Buddha’s name constantly, without a single moment of interruption. Since we don't know when the dying will leave this world, his/her relatives should take the major responsibility of chanting Buddha’s name consecutively. If there are not enough family members, a chanting assistance group can be called to help. As is instructed by Master YinKwang, the chanting is best done if divided into three shifts, with each shift consists of one hour of chanting and two hours of rest. This would not get people too tired and therefore is more long lasting. Of course it is also fine to make proper adjustment according to the situation. The general principle is to be able to chant continuously for a long time. This kind of chanting should last until the dying gets reborn in the Pureland.
When ordinary people die, the four elements separate from the consciousness consecutively, and bring great sufferings to the dying. The organs corresponding to the six sense lose their functionalities gradually, the body can not move, the mouth can not speak, the vision is blurred, the nose and tongue senses then leave the body, the mental sense becomes weak. On the other hand, the ear sense still exists within since the ear and mental senses are the last ones to exit. This is the most critical period for the ears to listen to the chanting of Buddha’s name. When the voice of the chanting (of Buddha’s name) gets more and more remote, until nothing is heard, the mental sense stops functioning. Therefore for the dying to get liberated upon the last thought before death, this last thought must actually be listening to the voice of chanting the name of Buddha Amitabha while the mind is meditating on the Buddha’s Pureland. We sincerely hope that all relatives, doctors, nurses, and Buddhists can grasp this precious opportunity at the last second before people die, and help him/her listen to the Buddha’s name, be reminded of the Buddha at the last thought, and gain certainty in rebirth in the Pureland.
5. Aftermath Treatments
Even if a person is announced dead by a doctor, it is improper to move the body immediately or perform all kinds of treatments on the body. It is especially improper to send the body to a funeral house or store it in a freezer. The reason is that even though judging from the outside appearances, the body may have already stopped breathing, and the heart may have already stopped beating. Nevertheless, actually it is very possible that there is still fine breathing, and the consciousness still has not left the body. Therefore we should continue to chant Buddha’s name, at least for another eight hours or even twelve hours.
Twelve hours after the breath stopped, we can then perform the worldly duties for the dead, such as sending the body to a funeral house, washing the body, changing the clothes, etc. Most people would worry about the stiffness of the body and not being able to change the clothes. But as a matter of fact, for most deceased people helped by the chanting assistance group, their bodies turn soft and there have been no difficulties at all in changing clothes for them. Even if the body gets stiff, we can still use towels soaked with warm water to cover the joints, and the body will become soft again.
Within forty-nine days of a person's death, the family members should try their best to do all kinds of virtuous deeds for the deceased, such as help printing Buddhist literatures in the name of the dead, helping the poor, making offerings to the three jewels, etc., in order to increase good karmic conditions for the dead. When a person is reborn in the Pureland, he would most likely be reborn in the Land with Both Ordinary People and Saints, which has nine different levels. Accumulating more merits will help the dead to be born to a higher level and have even more wonderful achievements. In the mean time, relatives should also not commit bad karmas, they should especially avoid killing animals as offerings. It is the best if all family members can be vegetarian for forty-nine days and do not add burden to the dead due to bad karmas.
6 How to Guide the Seriously Ills
If someone gets serious sicknesses, or is not cured after a tremendous amount of medication, or is declared cureless by doctors, we should also guide him to chant Buddha’s name. Buddha Sakyamuni once said that: "If one can chant the Buddha Amitabha’s name once, the sins of birth and death over eight billion eons will be purified." Bad karma can be purified by chanting Buddha’s name. If a person has not yet reached the limit of life, he will recover when the bad karma is purified. If the end of life is reached, by purifying bad karma, he/she can be easily reborn into the Utmost Bliss Pureland, where there is neither sufferings nor sicknesses. Therefore, chanting Buddha’s name can save one's life if one is savable. If one is not savable, one would leave this life and body behind and obtain a permanent and deathless life.
But the first step is for the dying to get rid of his/her attachment to this life, i.e. he/she should become fearless of death. Only when a person becomes fearless of death that he/she can generate a true confidence toward Buddha Amitabha. Only with a true confidence can chanting the Buddha’s name become effective. That is, either the person's life is saved or he/she gets reborn in the Pureland with no birth and no death thereafter.
Thus the first step is to guide the dying to generate confidence in Buddha Amitabha, make aspirations to be reborn in the Pureland, see through the processes of birth and death, and let go of all the attachments to self and the others, right and wrong, gratitude and resentment, and gain and lose of this life. Then install in his/her living place a large picture of Buddha Amitabha so that the dying can see the picture all the time. Also ask the dying to chant Buddha’s name sincerely. Since it is unpredictable when the dying will leave this world, which could be a long time later for some people, it is better off to prepare an electronic chanting machine that plays the chanting of the Buddha’s name. We can play it near his/her ears or let the dying carry the machine and hear the chanting constantly. This reminds him not to forget chanting the Buddha’s name. Whenever available the family members should chant the Buddha’s name together with him.
If the patient is already too sick to chant Buddha’s name by him/herself, we should then help him/her to do it through chanting with him/her or by using electronic chanting machines. We should let the dying hear the chanting all the time and ask him/her to follow the chanting by heart.
In addition, one can also apply for a quiet and peaceful therapy (in hospitals or at home), or consult with quiet and peaceful therapy professionals about the corresponding guidance work.
When the phenomena of dying appears, we should start the chanting assistance, as described above, to help him/her gain liberation in the Pureland upon the last thought before death.
7. What Everyone of Us Should Be Prepared For
The problem of life-and-death is the single most important thing in one's lifetime. It is also a problem that everyone has to face. It can happen anytime and anywhere. So, why don't we get well prepared while we are still conscious?
We may communicate with our family members and relatives beforehand and reach agreements about the necessary treatments when we become critically sick and after our death. We can also set up a will and ask them to proceed according to the will. But all these would depend on the others to help us chanting, which is not really secure.
Luckily, in additional to this way that depends upon other people, there is still another way which we can have self-control. That is, as mentioned above, what Buddha Sakyamuni told us, if we can believe in Buddha Amitabha, we can make an aspiration now to be reborn in the Utmost Bliss Pureland when our lives end. Then we should never forget Buddha Amitabha from now on. We should chant the name of Buddha Amitabha constantly and learn his spirit of helping and saving sentient beings selflessly. Under any given situation, we should think only about how to benefit the others, and never hurt the others. If we can practice like this continuously, we would naturally not forget Buddha Amitabha at the time of death, and Buddha Amitabha would certainly come to welcome us to his Pureland. This is the way that we can have control by ourselves.
Of course the safest way is to have both. On one hand we start practicing from now on, and on the other hand we also ask the others to lend us a hand when we are about to die.
8. Let Us All Propagate the Activity
Since we want to learn Buddha Amitabha's spirit of benefiting sentient beings, as a first step, we can start by participating in and propagating the activity of the chanting assistance of “Liberation Upon One Thought.” There are many benefits of assisting others through chanting Buddha’s name. On one hand we can learn, from practice, of how to remain calm and how to get reborn in the Pureland at the time of our own death. On the other hand, helping one person to get reborn in the Pureland will make one pure connection with the Pureland for us. Helping tens, hundreds, and thousands of people would mean tens, hundreds, and thousands of connections with the Pureland. When we are about to die, all these pure connections will ripen. All those who you once helped to get reborn in the Pureland will come to your help and welcome you to the Pureland. Also, helping one person get reborn in the Pureland is not helping only one to become a Bodhisattva. He/She will come back to this world according to his aspirations and save countless sentient beings to get reborn in the Pureland. After these countless sentient beings are reborn in the Pureland, each of them will also come back to save countless beings. Such merit is immeasurable no matter how we calculate it, and all these merits will become the "capitals" for us to get reborn in the Pureland in the future.
Thus, we hope every man and woman, whoever sees, hears, and knows this information, can participate in this activity and work together in getting others and ourselves liberated so that everyone's life can have a perfect ending.
Here we would specifically like to request the participation of doctors and nurses. This is because you are those who have first hand contact with seriously ill or dying patients, and the patients and their relatives always have particular confidence in you. So if each doctor or nurse can support, work with, or even participate in the chanting group, it would certainly make the activity even more smooth and perfect, than what the others can do. The principle of medication is to save people's lives. If saving one's life of this lifetime becomes impossible while we can further help saving his spirit and consciousness, aren’t we saving one's life at a higher level? Therefor we sincerely ask all doctors and nurses, based upon the number one code of saving people's lives, to work together and save the permanent and deathless lives of people.